Across the world, countries are trying to simultaneously deal with two of society’s biggest ever challenges: climate change and a global pandemic.
Industry, academic and political leaders came together in May for Climate Exp0 – a five-day virtual conference which served as a preview for the global COP26 summit in November.
Around a dozen University of Hull speakers, from multiple disciplines, were included in the line-up at Climate Exp0.
Included in the line-up was Professor Dan Parsons (Director at the Energy & Environment Institute), Louise Smith (Director at Aura), Professor Briony McDonagh (Risky Cities Lead) and post-doctoral researcher Dr Agota Mockute.
Climate Exp0 highlighted five key lessons which must be considered if the UK and the world is to be successful in its transition to a net-zero economy:
Intertwine social, environmental and economic goals
It became increasingly clear that delivering a green recovery requires a breakaway from historical economic models focused solely on GDP and growth. To deliver meaningful change, economic goals must be considered alongside environmental and social goals, and there is a need to redefine success through a broader wellbeing economy lens.
Include and engage everyone
Climate Exp0 reminded us that delivering a just transition to net-zero and addressing inequalities must go beyond just focusing on the distribution of costs and benefits, but must also inspire, engage, and enable more widespread participation, particularly from those voices that can often be underrepresented.
Adolescents care deeply and are angry about intergenerational injustice, reminding us to listen to the voices of the youth. Ensuring a sustainable equitable green recovery needs a focus and promotion of equality and diversity best achieved by engaging young people from diverse backgrounds in meaningful ways.
Emphasis was also placed on the importance of meaningful public dialogue — an informed, balanced and equitable discussion between people reflective of the society — in helping to inform the policy, business and societal responses to the climate emergency.
Address the global challenges at a local level
The role of local in the green recovery was a recurring theme across the conference. Aura Director Louise Smith highlighted the role of universities working locally with small and medium-sized enterprises, and identified this as being a key element of delivering net zero in regions across the world.
A place-based approach to a green recovery can take account of local circumstances and embed the principles of a ‘Just Transition,’ and it was reiterated that local is really important as local governments know their communities and context. This focus therefore provides a platform for more meaningful engagement with a wider proportion of the population.
Addressing the green recovery and climate action on the local level also helps to realise the co-benefits: addressing wider environmental issues, social inequalities, building local supply chains, and building resilience. However, changes in our policy frameworks are needed to ensure the success.
We need to implement frameworks that would enable, commit, and oblige action whilst also implementing multi-level governance structures, where power and agency for action are situated at the right level. We also need to address funding, its security, make sure that those who can act are empowered to do so, and that we can de-risk investment and start to build sustainable and good jobs.
Start acting now
It was extensively noted that there already is an extensive amount of research available to foster and build a net zero transition, and what is now needed is the development and policy-based action.
Chris Skidmore, MP and formerly Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, noted that we do lots of R&D in the UK, and we are great at the R, but need to do more of the D to meet net-zero.
He suggested simple changes to the way in which innovation funding works to give funders longer-term flexibility in how they support innovation processes.
Louise Smith also highlighted the role of Universities in engaging with regions and driving skills needs, and Chris Skidmore agreed – highlighting that Universities are becoming anchor institutions in their region, and can be global beacons of the net-zero journey.
Teach for the better tomorrow
The importance of education and quick adaptation of the curriculum with the changing times was a strongly recurring theme. A need to make sure teachers are skilled for the new curricula was highlighted, and a discussion also centred on how best to embed Sustainable Development Goals into Universities — both the curricula and the culture.
Education, and diversity in education, are key for inclusive society. Expanding climate change across the curriculum and teaching it at an earlier stage will be essential in tackling the challenge. It was noted that better understanding of intergenerational justice, whole-system change and complex intersections are needed for the next generation, and agreed that a change in curricula could bring a two-way benefit of teaching and engaging the young generation about the local government and their goals.